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Targeting an Embedded Processor


The sections that follow describe issues that often arise when targeting a fixed-point design for use on an embedded processor, such as some general assumptions about integer sizes and operations available on embedded processors. These assumptions lead to design issues and design rules that might be useful for your specific fixed-point design.

Size Assumptions

Embedded processors are typically characterized by a particular bit size. For example, the terms “8-bit micro,” “32-bit micro,” or “16-bit DSP” are common. It is generally safe to assume that the processor is predominantly geared to processing integers of the specified bit size. Integers of the specified bit size are referred to as the base data type. Additionally, the processor typically provides some support for integers that are twice as wide as the base data type. Integers consisting of double bits are referred to as the accumulator data type. For example a 16-bit micro has a 16-bit base data type and a 32-bit accumulator data type.

Although other data types may be supported by the embedded processor, this section describes only the base and accumulator data types.

Operation Assumptions

The embedded processor operations discussed in this section are limited to the needs of a basic simulation diagram. Basic simulations use multiplication, addition, subtraction, and delays. Fixed-point models also need shifts to do scaling conversions. For all these operations, the embedded processor should have native instructions that allow the base data type as inputs. For accumulator-type inputs, the processor typically supports addition, subtraction, and delay (storage/retrieval from memory), but not multiplication.

Multiplication is typically not supported for accumulator-type inputs because of complexity and size issues. A difficulty with multiplication is that the output needs to be twice as big as the inputs for full precision. For example, multiplying two 16-bit numbers requires a 32-bit output for full precision. The need to handle the outputs from a multiplication operation is one of the reasons embedded processors include accumulator-type support. However, if multiplication of accumulator-type inputs is also supported, then there is a need to support a data type that is twice as big as the accumulator type. To restrict this additional complexity, multiplication is typically not supported for inputs of the accumulator type.

Design Rules

The important design rules that you should be aware of when modeling dynamic systems with fixed-point math follow.

Design Rule 1: Only Multiply Base Data Types

It is best to multiply only inputs of the base data type. Embedded processors typically provide an instruction for the multiplication of base-type inputs, but not for the multiplication of accumulator-type inputs. If necessary, you can combine several instructions to handle multiplication of accumulator-type inputs. However, this can lead to large, slow embedded code.

You can insert blocks to convert inputs from the accumulator type to the base type prior to Product or Gain blocks, if necessary.

Design Rule 2: Delays Should Use the Base Data Type

There are two general reasons why a Unit Delay should use only base-type numbers:

  • The Unit Delay essentially stores a variable's value to RAM and, one time step later, retrieves that value from RAM. Because the value must be in memory from one time step to the next, the RAM must be exclusively dedicated to the variable and can't be shared or used for another purpose. Using accumulator-type numbers instead of the base data type doubles the RAM requirements, which can significantly increase the cost of the embedded system.

  • The Unit Delay typically feeds into a Gain block. The multiplication design rule requires that the input (the unit delay signal) use the base data type.

Design Rule 3: Temporary Variables Can Use the Accumulator Data Type

Except for unit delay signals, most signals are not needed from one time step to the next. This means that the signal values can be temporarily stored in shared and reused memory. This shared and reused memory can be RAM or it can simply be registers in the CPU. In either case, storing the value as an accumulator data type is not much more costly than storing it as a base data type.

Design Rule 4: Summation Can Use the Accumulator Data Type

Addition and subtraction can use the accumulator data type if there is justification. The typical justification is reducing the buildup of errors due to roundoff or overflow.

For example, a common filter operation is a weighted sum of several variables. Multiplying a variable by a weight naturally produces a product of the accumulator type. Before summing, each product can be converted back to the base data type. This approach introduces round-off error into each part of the sum.

Alternatively, the products can be summed using the accumulator data type, and the final sum can be converted to the base data type. Round-off error is introduced in just one point and the precision is generally better. The cost of doing an addition or subtraction using accumulator-type numbers is slightly more expensive, but if there is justification, it is usually worth the cost.